Can You Be Addicted to Technology?

Technology is a temptation as well as a must-have, but are you in control of usage and time online, or is use getting out of hand? Here’s how to tell.

Can you be addicted to technology?

The average American stares at a screen 11 hours a day. That includes televisions, computers, phones, and tablets. It’s a lot of time — nearly half our lives, in fact.

A lot of that is for work, but for most people, even if their job involves sitting at a computer, there are side excursions to check Facebook and email, to read up on breaking news, or perhaps even do a bit of shopping.

It’s easy to let the mind wander.

Despite the hours staring at our screens, technology and/or internet addiction isn’t officially designated in the king of mental health manuals, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (aka the DSM-5). In DSM-5, substance use disorders (which include drugs and alcohol) are considered a mental health problem, but internet addiction disorder or technology addiction disorder could land there one day.

Nations such as China and South Korea have sounded alarms about such conditions.

Some see internet addiction as a symptom of another illness, such as depression or anxiety. Others lean toward it being an impulse control disorder.

There are specialists who work with people to reduce their online habits, via behavioral therapies primarily. These therapies are a common part of the treatment program for many use disorders.

Addictions tend to share common features, including symptoms that can easily apply to internet or technology overuse. Signs of concern include:

  • The problem is noticeable
  • The behavior is compulsive
  • Use affects mood (stress relief, bliss)
  • Tolerance builds up; more is needed for the same effect
  • Withdrawal occurs when the activity stops
  • The behavior continues despite negative consequences

What Makes Technology So Tempting?

What makes technology addictive? There are multiple lures. The most popular sites and social media platforms, they’re designed to hook you.

Also, we tend to be linked in because of work. Missing a call from an important client, or not responding quickly enough to a text or email from the boss, for some people that’s akin to signing their own pink slip. For that reason, people check in. And often.

Some liken these devices to cigarettes. Instead of lighting up when they’re bored, they check Facebook. If they’re fidgety? Check email or play a game. If your lunch date is checking their phone and ignoring you? May as well see what’s on Snapchat.

Also, it’s easy escapism. At the push of a few buttons, we’re in a new world thanks to the internet, video and computer games, or social media. In a flash we’re playing Candy Crush or Fortnite. We’re looking at recipes or watching funny cat videos.

What Is Technology Addiction?

While technology has made most people’s lives easier, on the flip side, that same ease also makes it harder to disconnect. When it isn’t necessary to check in, and when it overtakes or interferes with life, it’s a problem.

Like with most any substance or activity there’s a fine line between overuse and addiction. A routine — like checking emails for 15 minutes every afternoon or playing a game over morning coffee — doesn’t consume all of one’s time or money.

When online time eats too much into daily obligations and hurts relationships and responsibilities, it may be time to unplug a bit. And possibly seek help.

As for the cause, there rarely is one true reason for addiction. In some cases it’s an underlying mental health condition such as anxiety or depression. Genetics or environmental factors can also play a role.

Whether too much time online causes depression and anxiety, or anxiety and depression are what draw some individuals to rarely unplug, the answer remains unclear.

But, there definitely seems to be a link. It’s just not quite clear yet if the argument leans more toward the proverbial chicken or the proverbial egg.

What Are the Risks of Teen Technology Use?

One problem with technology and the brain, specifically tied to teens, is that young brains are still growing.

The gray matter tends to peak in size in early adolescence, but youthful brains continue to develop into one’s 20s. The prefrontal cortex is one of the last parts of the brain to mature. That hunk of gray matter handles planning, prioritizing, and controlling impulses, which explains why teens are more prone to take risks.

It’s also not great in terms of too much online time. Especially because young brains handle stress differently, which means a greater likelihood of anxiety and depression.

Youngsters also need more sleep. Unfortunately the blue light of the phone interferes with the ability to get in a solid eight hours of shut-eye.

And while social media is a popular place to connect, it can actually make one more vulnerable to cyberbullying, and then there’s a sort of social comparison going as well.

A lot of content is curated, too, so it’s not an accurate representation of the real world. Filtered and staged, it’s a pretty hothouse flower of a view, and the real world is not so filtered and posed and perfect. The result: possible disappointment in one’s lot in life.

Teens and adolescents seem to feel more anxiety and hyperactivity from social media too. Studies that monitored smartphone use have found that those who had to follow imposed limits showed fewer signs of depression, anxiety, and fear of missing out.

Creating a Healthy Balance

Since we’re constantly surrounded by devices and are more plugged in than not, creating a healthy balance is a smart move. There are apps that monitor how much time is being spent on which apps. Smartphones have that data too.

Stopping nonessential notifications can also be a very helpful move. That’ll shelve a lot of distracting pings and peeps. Limiting technology may also spark other useful side benefits. Just a few of the benefits include fewer sore necks, fewer texting thumbs or selfie elbows, better posture, better respiratory function, better sleep, and less anxiety.

Sources

  • healthline.com – Understanding Internet Addiction
  • nimh.nih.gov – Substance Use and Mental Health
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice
  • health.com – 7 Scary Things You Never Knew About Cell Phone Addiction
  • techcrunch.com – The 4 Reasons You’re Addicted to Technology
  • time.com – You Asked: Am I Addicted to My Phone?
  • nimh.nih.gov – The Teen Brain: 7 Things to Know
  • healthline.com – The FOMO is Real: How Social Media Increases Depression and Loneliness
  • healthline.com – From Selfie Elbow to Texting Thumb: How to Avoid Smartphone Injuries
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – The Effect of Smartphone Usage Time on Posture and Respiratory Function

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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